Tough Times: Europe Swings To The Right

The European Parliament elections mark a victory for center-right and right-wing parties as voters punish the left in a vote marked by a historically low turnout.

The center-right European People's Party (EPP) held on to its position as the largest grouping in the European Parliament, with provisional results giving them 267, or around 36 percent, of the assembly's 736 seats.

The center-right's showing was even better than indicated by the EPP's results, as many euroskeptic members of the European Parliament are moving to other parliamentary groups.

The vote's biggest loser is the center-left, with the Party of European Socialists (PES) winning just 159 seats, 56 fewer than in the 2004 election. "Tonight is a very difficult evening for Socialists in many nations in Europe," Martin Schulz, lead candidate for Germany's Social Democrats and the floor leader for the PES in the European Parliament, said on Sunday evening.

The liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) also saw their support decline, winning 81 seats, a drop of 21. The Greens did better, however, gaining 11 seats to up their total to 54. The left-wing Left parliamentary group lost 7 seats to land with 34 members.

The Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN), which includes conservative and right-wing populist parties such as Italy's Northern League, will have 35 members in the new parliament, an increase of 19 seats. The euroskeptic Independence and Democracy (Ind/Dem) group saw its support fall from 24 to 18 seats.

A total of 88 members of the new parliament either do not belong to any parliamentary group or intend to leave their current group. The center-right British Conservatives and the right-wing Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the Czech Republic have announced they will leave the EPP group and found a new euroskeptic group with Poland's right-wing Law and Justice Party (PIS).

The election, which took place from June 4 to June 7 across the EU's 27 member states, was marked by a record low turnout of just 43.4 percent, the lowest since elections to the European Parliament began in 1979. The last election in 2004 saw a turnout of 45.5 percent. Turnout has fallen in every European election since 1979.

Turnout was particularly low in some of Europe's largest countries with just 40.5 percent of voters in France and 42.2 percent in Germany casting their ballots. However new member state Malta was expected to show a turnout of almost 80 percent.

In Germany, the election proved a major defeat for the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who got just 20.8 percent of the vote -- their worst election showing in post-war German history. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union got 30.6 percent of the vote, a decline of 5.9 percent compared to its 2004 result, and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union got 7.2 percent.

The German Greens' support ticked up slightly to 12.1 percent of the vote, while the German party with the biggest gain was the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, which got 11 percent, an increase of almost 5 percent compared to 2004. The far-left Left Party, which was founded since the last European election and which has shaken up the German political system, got 7.5 percent of the vote.

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